In this edition, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Marjorie Woollacott, author of the book, Infinite Awareness: The Awakening of a Scientific Mind, which she describes as both a scientist’s memoir and a research survey on human consciousness. Dr. Woollacott was a neuroscience professor at the University of Oregon for more than three decades and a meditator for almost four. She also has a master’s degree in Asian studies.  Her master’s thesis was the foundation for her book. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and includes both research in neuroscience and testing the efficacy of alternative forms of therapy such as tai chi and meditation for improving both attention and balance in adults.

Infinite Awareness The Awakening of a Scientific Mind Marjorie Hines Woollacott Pim van Lommel 9781538110195 Amazon com Books

Get the book at Amazon.

We had a great conversation about her studies and experiences around consciousness, meditation, and event psi phenomena. Please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Marjorie Woollacott.

Questions we discussed:

  1. Let’s start off with your story: your meditation workshop, the Swami, and how it all played with your being a Neuroscientist.
  2. After that experience, you spent time observing your own mind during meditation. What were you able to observe? What did you learn from that?
  3. You mention that mantras help to quiet the mind, letting thoughts go, even opens the filters to the non-local consciousness.
    1. First, What is non-local awareness or consciousness?
    2. How does this relate to paranormal experiences like NDEs?
      1. I’m guessing your top-down view of consciousness would mean that consciousness is already out-of-body and these observations are merely new perspectives, filtered down into the mind?
      2. Is there a link between paranormal experience and meditation? I’m curious about meditation being a window into consciousness, into my own consciousness, into the non-local consciousness. Is it? Can we exercise, modify, improve our mind/consciousness through meditation?
      3. Is there a connection to Robin Cahart-Harris’ (et al) study of psychedelics using fMRI imaging that showed these hallucinogens actually slow down parts of the brain, actually freeing consciousness from the brain’s own filters? If so, how does that play into the top-down architecture of consciousness?
  4. So, what is your notion of consciousness, how do you define or describe it? [the melding together of ‘Western science’ and ‘Hindu teachings’ on consciousness — how did you reconcile those two?]
    1. You mention that, ‘All this is consciousness’ — can you expand on that?
    2. How does it emerge in an individual, conscious being?
    3. What about the ‘ego’? Thoughts on that? ‘Self’ is an illusion?
  5. You’re a panpsychist? What does panpsychism mean to you — I hear a few different definitions.
    1. You’re also an idealist, believing that the mind creates reality? 
  6. You describe how our nervous system filters all the input it receives, that it must do this. The brain also filters a greater consciousness, non-local awareness (infinite awareness)? Can you expand on that?
    1. Can we access this non-local awareness?
      1. How does the brain filter this?
      2. What’s available to us if we don’t filter it? Can we turn the filter off?
      3. Aldous Huxley’s, “Doors of Perception” — the mind filters the greater consciousness and is opened by psychedelics/mescaline. Any thoughts on that? [turns out he might’ve been wrong, according to Carhart-Harris’ findings.]
  7. [given top-down design model] Does consciousness survive death? Does it change form, or does it persist?
  8. What do you think about how neuroscience is taught in our universities? Have you seen an evolution of these studies and teaching in the universities as a result of your experiences and those of others? (DOPS)
  9. In your own studies and in the study of consciousness/awareness/meditation, what about future discoveries or advances excites you?
  10. What else will you be working on?
  11. Anything else you’d like to share? Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences: https://www.aapsglobal.com/

In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has a Ph.D. in computer engineering with specializations in artificial intelligence and reconfigurable computing. He has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the “Casimir Effect” of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). He has authored many academic papers and books on philosophy and science. Three of his most recent books, available at online booksellers are: More Than Allegory, Brief Peeks Beyond and Why Materialism Is Baloney.

Please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, where we dive into that notion that Materialism…is baloney.

Questions:

  1. How has your background in Computer Engineering and Artificial Intelligence affected your views on consciousness?How have your studies of consciousness and idealism affected your notion of AI and AC?
  2. What is the difference between artificial intelligence and artificial consciousness?
    What do you think it would take for a computer to have what you call ‘private inner experience’? Possible? The hard question applies to computer consciousness as well as human consciousness?
  3. You have papers and videos and a book on breaking down the materialist argument(s). What is the most common argument for materialism and how do you counter that?
    Can we review the argument about psychoactive drugs?
    Do your counter-arguments to materialism also apply to dualism, since you’re removing the material part of the mind-body duality?
    You say it’s a mistake to say that science explains or supports materialism. Is that correct? Can you explain why that’s a mistake?
    What are your thoughts, if any, on integrated information theory (IIT) and how it measures consciousness in the brain, postulates a physical substrate of consciousness?
  4. As an idealist, how do you avoid solipsism? Or, do you?
  5. What is your opinion of ‘unconsciousness’?
    The self/ego and reflection, you say, ‘amplify’ consciousness. You also mention Robin Carhart-Harris’ psychedelic studies as decreasing brain activity. Is the ‘unconscious’ state a baseline condition of consciousness?
    What are your interpretations of Robin Carhart-Harris’ psychedelic studies, that brain activity slows down or reduces during psychedelic experiences?
    What IS ego/self?
    What implication does that have on the notion of dreams (or hallucinations)?
    Can you please tell us more about the ‘collective unconscious’ and how it generates reality?
  6. You mention (in Scientific American), that “subatomic particles are the “pixels” of experience, not necessarily of the experiencer.” What is the difference between the experience and the experiencer? Does an experience exist independently of the experiencer?
    Your analogy of pixels and pixelated images to experience, can you explain that for us? Would you mind running that analogy for one’s experience of, say, the color red? Also, to your analogy to the whirlpool?
  7. You mention that the universe, as a whole, can be conscious – is mental. Can you explain or expand on that?
    There is something it is like to be the universe, as a whole? I have as much of a hard time with that as I do a stone.
    Particles are affected by our observation. We can’t know of particles behaving independent of our observations. Therefore, the Universe is a product of our minds — idealism. Do I have that right?
  8. Where do you stand on the survival of consciousness after death?
    The body is the localization of consciousness? When the body dies, it de-localizes? Does it maintain memories, or are memories the function of (the image of) the brain?
    Where do you stand on psi phenomena, especially near death experiences? [Ed Kelly wrote the afterward for your book?]
    Newly added, what about the emergence of consciousness?
  9. In your own studies and in the study of consciousness, what about future discoveries or advances excites you?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Keith Frankish, a European philosopher and writer. I was first introduced to Dr. Frankish’s theory by David Chalmers’ keynote speech at The Science of Consciousness. The theory is Illusionism. Do we have consciousness or does it SEEM as if we have consciousness? Dr. Frankish is an Honorary Reader at the University of Sheffield, a Visiting Research Fellow with The Open University, and an Adjunct Professor with the Brain and Mind Programme at the University of Crete. His focus is primarily in philosophy of mind, but he has interests in many areas of philosophy.

Please enjoy this conversation on Illusionism with Dr. Keith Frankish. Oh, and there’s a bonus ‘far out’ question at the end on illusionism’s potential role in the brain as a portal to a greater consciousness. I came away from that conversation with a new perspective. Again, please enjoy this edition of The Consciousness Podcast with Dr. Keith Frankish.

Illusionism: As a Theory of Consciousness  edited by Keith Frankish

Questions:

  1. When did you come into Illusionism and how did you get there?
    1. In layman’s terms, what is ‘illusionism’?
    2. What about the ‘illusion problem.’ What is the ‘illusion problem’?
    3. So, you’re not a zombie?
  2. You mention that phenomenal properties (qualia) are illusory, that we have a subset of (distorted) information required to really understand the phenomenal experience, that we ‘misrepresent’ those experiences. Can you expand on that notion?
    1. We don’t have phenomenal experiences, we ‘seem’ to have them. Where or how does the ‘seeming’ happen? [that’s the illusion problem?]
  3. It seems that phenomenal experiences are tied to our own interpretation and introspection (what it is like) of our sensory states, which would rule out dualism, no?
    1. Is illusionism mutually exclusive from dualism? That feels like an odd question. We’re talking about consciousness, that it’s an illusion…but, even if it’s an illusion, is it separate from the brain/body?
    2. Is ‘consciousness’ the illusory experience? Chalmers said that: ‘If this is an illusion, then the illusion is consciousness.’ It starts to feel like a contradiction to me. Am I getting part of this wrong?
    3. There is not a line between ‘seeming to have’ (illusionism) and ‘what it is like to have’ (realism). If I understand, those are one and the same experience. Do you see any way for that line to be drawn or discovered? What could be the discovery that causes illusionism to break down?
    4. What about the ego? How does that fit into Illusionism? As you state, Humphrey proposes that consciousness enriches life, adding interests and goals. Is that where/how ego/self emerges?
    5. You state that, “Evolution couldn’t set it up so that brain states really have qualia.” Why not?
      1. Evolution has created qualia that seem to be real, even though they are not (Pain?). What is the mechanism behind this? Can you shed some light on the emergence of these illusory qualia? Where do they come from? [again, illusion problem here?]
      2. How tightly tied to sensory states is the illusion? Is there illusion outside of these state? For example, can there be multiple layers of illusion, illusory qualia derived from other (even multiple) illusory qualia?
    6. What are your plans, with illusionism or new theories, for the future?

Far Out Question:

  1. It’s almost like these illusions (qualia) are simple representations of extremely complex functions presented to us (introspection) as a way to help us understand (Dennett’s computer icons, Rey’s cartoon, etc.). Others have proposed that the brain is a portal, filter to a larger consciousness. I can see a common concept here: that the brain (or something?) is filtering reality or a greater consciousness in order to enrich, or even make possible, our experiences, or lives.
    1. Could these illusions be a middleman between the dual mind and brain, that the mind is actually another level above what we have been describing as consciousness (the illusion)?
    2. Will these illusions continue to evolve in passing the torch gradually over to the ‘full consciousness’?
    3. Maybe some have been born without this illusion generator, without the filter, and have gone insane or become geniuses (cosmic consciousness) given access to this larger consciousness or flow of information and experience?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Bernard Kobes from my Alma Mater, Arizona State University. Dr. Kobes has been an Associate Professor of Philosophy at ASU since 1986, where he has been recognized with numerous awards. We covered everything from what-it-is-like consciousness to the emergence of consciousness in both individuals and in species to the morality and ethics of uploading one’s consciousness into a computer.

Topics we covered include:

  1. How do you define consciousness?
  2. Tell us about your seminar, Philosophy of Mind: Consciousness, and its topic: Metaphysical aspects of an apparent tension between dependence of consciousness on the physical brain and body, and the novelty of consciousness relative to the physical.
    1. What is that dependence of consciousness on the physical brain and body? How does this relate to your idea of dualism/physicalism?
    2. Does this explore the binding of the mind to the body?
    3. Does consciousness emerge from the physical layers of the brain/body? What is ‘emergentism’?
    4. What about weak and strong emergence? What is that, and what is your view on this?
    5. You describe consciousness (what-it-is-like consciousness) as one of the layers. What are the layers? At what point do the layers move from physical to metaphysical/phenomenal?
      1. How do the Mary and archangel arguments help explain this?
      2. How is emergentism a form a dualism, or is it?
    6. The physical closure principle (every physical event that has a cause has a sufficient physical cause): how does this play into dualism? Do you accept this?
    7. Panpsychism: you argue that panpsychism is not plausible, because of the ‘combination problem’. Can you explain/expand on that?
    8. You reject substance-dualism. What about property dualism? Maybe provide an explanation of each if pertinent.
    9. Regarding your “thoughts and conjectures about distinctively human forms of consciousness, based partly on a lecture given at ASU on February 1, 2018, by the paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall,” can you give us a quick synopsis on your ideas regarding the evolution of consciousness in humans, including any key points you find particularly interesting?
      1. What about Block’s notion of ‘access to consciousness’. What do you mean by that?
        You’ve discussed emergence of consciousness as related to an individual mind/brain. What are you thoughts here on the emergence of ‘consciousness’ in a species, in humans?
    10. What is “constitution of consciousness”?
    11. Do you see any breakthroughs coming in the study/understanding of consciousness?
    12. Is one’s consciousness something, like knowledge and wisdom or muscle development, something that one can exercise/improve/expand upon?
    13. In addition to what we’ve discussed, is there anything else you’d like to bring up and/or discuss?

This week, I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Uriah Kriegel. Dr. Kriegel is a research director at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris, where he heads the “Consciousness & Self” team. He works mostly in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, but is also interested in cognitive science, metaethics, epistemology, early analytic philosophy, and a number of other research areas. He received his PhD from Brown University in 2003, whereupon he started teaching at the wonderful philosophy department at the University of Arizona, where he was tenured in 2010. He moved to Nicod in 2012.

It was a fascinating conversation, where we touched on topics from the Awareness Principle to eating one’s brain to learn what chocolate tastes like (hint: you can’t do that) to Arizona’s connection with Asthma to being ‘nobody’s dog!’  

Go buy Uriah’s books on Amazon:

Subjective Consciousness: A Self-Representational Theory

The Varieties of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind)

The Sources of Intentionality

And many more!

Some topics covered:

  • Manifest image of the world versus the scientific image of the world
  • One can’t eat your brain as you eat chocolate and know what chocolate tastes like
  • Does consciousness fit into the scientific world?
  • The Awareness Principle: can we be wrong about our awareness of our awareness?
  • The Scientific Theory of Everything and Reflexive Awareness
  • Are dreams an exception to the Awareness Principle?
  • Memories aren’t an essential part of consciousness.
  • Meditation, dreaming and allocating your awareness resources
  • Is all consciousness intentional? What the heck does that mean, anyway?
  • The near-perfect correlation between the physical brain and consciousness
  • Does Arizona cause Asthma?
  • Morality, Consciousness and Free Will offer similar challenges — will the Humanities help us find our reason for being, our purpose in life?
  • Undiscovered building blocks of consciousness